How the primary care shortage is spilling over into ASCs

There are many systemic issues that all healthcare professionals are forced to grapple with, including staffing shortages, rising practice costs and decreasing reimbursement.

Becker's connected with Agnes Hurtuk, MD, assistant professor and ambulatory medical director of ENT at Loyola Medicine in Chicago to elaborate on the biggest issues in the industry.

Note: This response has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Question: What is the most insidious issue in healthcare?

Dr. Agnes Hurtuk: The growing national shortage of physicians and its impact on healthcare delivery and quality of care is one of the most insidious issues in healthcare. Over the last several years, I have had an increasing number of patients that I see in my otolaryngology practice ask me to refill their blood pressure medications or an inhaler for their asthma because their primary care physician has left the state, retired, is no longer accepting their insurance, or is booked for a long period of time and unable to see them in a reasonable amount of time. Patients are having increased difficulty establishing care with primary care physicians, and as we all know, the pathway to good health starts with a good relationship with a primary care physician.

In order to address this issue, it is first important to quantify and understand the current physician supply, areas in need, capacity of current practicing physicians, and how long they plan to practice. In addition to understanding the current physician pool, it is also important to understand who will replace or help these physicians when they leave practice, retire, or reach volume where they need help from another physician with the patient load. Currently, there are no reliable answers to these questions. 

One estimate states that approximately 83 million people in the U.S. currently live in areas with limited access to primary care physicians. As the U.S. strives to provide a more equitable and affordable healthcare system, there needs to be a better understanding of the supply of physicians and demand to achieve adequate access and maintain the high-quality care for which the U.S. healthcare system is known worldwide.

It is important to understand the possible etiologies behind the current and anticipated physician shortages to address them. While this may not apply to all specialties, there are several factors that can be looked at to improve workflows for physicians, such as decreasing unnecessary administrative burdens, capacity enabling technologies such as telemedicine or virtual or digital charting support and investigating other factors to improve physician job satisfaction. 

Once these etiologies are better defined and quantified, these issues can be effectively addressed, and this, in turn, will continue to attract the best and the brightest candidates to medicine to move U.S. healthcare forward with research and innovation to provide the highest quality care to our patients and communities.

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